Palestinian leader signals willingness to extend peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday that it was still possible to revive moribund peace negotiations.

Abbas told five Israeli opposition legislators from the Labor and Meretz parties that he was willing to extend the negotiations past their April 29 deadline "if the Israeli side commits to the principles that can allow an extension," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. 

The Palestinians first want Israel to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners as promised, and to announce a total settlement freeze. They also want Israel to accept a Palestinian territory based on boundaries that existed prior to the 1967 Middle East War. 

"If there is an agreement on these principles, we are ready," Abu Rudeineh said at a news conference after the meeting in Ramallah. "But if Israel does not accept them, the Palestinian leadership will meet again to take the proper decision."

Palestinian leaders decided April 1 to join 15 international treaties, including the four Geneva conventions, after Israel had failed to release the prisoners as promised in an agreement last year that relaunched the peace talks.

The Israeli delegation met with Abbas despite pressure from right-wing groups to cancel the Ramallah visit after the fatal shooting of an Israeli police officer in the West Bank.

Israeli Labor Party legislator Hilik Bar, who headed the Israeli delegation and leads a group of parliamentarians who support a peace solution with the Palestinians, said the meeting was important and that Abbas had condemned all forms of violence.

Bar said the right-wing groups in Israel undermined the chance for peace and pushed for a binational state, which he said would be disastrous for the future of Israel.

Spokesman Abu Rudeineh confirmed that Abbas condemned violence from any party and was committed to a peaceful settlement and continuation of talks at least until April 29, as agreed to with U.S. Secretary of State John. F. Kerry.

He said a three-way meeting including the U.S. that was supposed to have taken place in Jerusalem on Wednesday had been postponed until Thursday evening to allow special U.S. envoy Martin Indyk time to return from a trip the U.S.

The Palestinians and Israelis have been holding intensive talks in the last two weeks to avert a breakdown in the negotiations.


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Abukhater is a special correspondent.

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